Ketchup and Thunder – Seventy Two Virgins

Brilliant book review by Rt Hon Lord Hurd of Westwell…

The Spectator September 18, 2004

Douglas Hurd

SEVENTY TWO VIRGINS : A COMEDY OF ERRORS by Boris Johnson HarperCollins, GBP 17.99, pp. 400, ISBN 0007195907

I have read somewhere that the friends of this author are worried.

Apparently he is an MP, a shadow minister, a performer on chat shows, editor of a weekly magazine, the next prime minister but three and now out pops a novel. How can he manage it all?

They need not worry. On the evidence I would guess that he wrote this in three days, flat out day and night, finishing with the arrival on the fourth morning of what with his Homeric education he would call the rosy-fingered dawn.

And none the worse for that. The rollicking pace and continuous outpouring of comic invention make the book. There is no doubt which master he follows. Several times in P. G Wodehouse the Woosterfigure meets in ambiguous circumstances a police constable, who may hold a torch and say, ‘Ho.’ Boris Johnson has successfully elaborated this simple theme. Here is not one Wooster but two a gormless Conservative MP and the President of the United States, addressing Parliament in Westminster Hall. Here is not a single policeman but the whole array of the British and American forces of order, struggling through mishaps and misunderstandings to save the President from assassination by three Muslim fanatics in a stolen ambulance.


Add plenty of insider jokes. To enjoy the book you do not have to identify Sir Trevor Hutchinson, who writes an immense column attacking the erosion of liberty, culminating in anger at being asked to produce his passport ‘when boarding a flight from Heathrow to Inverness to fulfil an important shooting engagement’. But it helps. Any irritation at the teasing is purged by the discovery that the main caricature is clearly of the author himself.

The difficulty is with the villains. A suicide bombing cannot really be treated as a variety act. The author depicts each terrorist as a sad clown, tempted in his own way by the ludicrous incentives of paradise; but this does not quite work. We understand why Wodehouse avoided any serious theme which might curdle his comedy. Not that the novel is partisan. Every possible attitude to the Iraq war is in turn mocked which seems in harmony with the official Spectator line of supporting the war but impeaching the man who started it.

The story moves finally into sustained farce, as if the Marx Brothers had acquired A-levels in history and politics. A tennis ball of Henry VIII, the House of Commons gents, Black Rod, both the personage and the weapon all for a moment play crucial parts. Everything hurls and whirls. There is plenty of blood, though in the general good humour we know that it is ketchup.

The guardians of our author’s future need not worry. This is a laurel from a new bush, but certainly a prizewinner. After all, the young Disraeli would have darted eagerly on to any reputable chat show; and those elderly reviewers no doubt tut-tutted like mad over Coningsby.

LOAD-DATE: September 22, 2004

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8 thoughts on “Ketchup and Thunder – Seventy Two Virgins”

  1. Saw just a few lines of an outtake of this book and ordered it instantly! Looks absolutely amazing. Eagerly awaiting my postman… 🙂

  2. I may not have the literary credentials of Messrs Johnson and Hurd, but surely ‘Gormless Conservative’ is tautology? [Ed: hi vicus scurra – will come back to you in a tick once I have an appropriate response…]

  3. BJ seems to be taking part in a bit of an ego surf here with this reveiw. Then again if you can’t toot your own horn then who can. May be you could comb your hair once in a while. BJ the man most likely to turn in to the next Jeff Archer? This question could now be open for debate. By the way are there seventy two virgins in England, let alone in the conserative party? Of course there are no virgins in The Spectator Offices, and if there was one they would not be virgin for long. 🙂

  4. My dog fell asleep wagging his tail yesterday which I have never seen him do before. Is he dreaming of the seventy-two unspayed bitches?

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